According to the New Testament we are living in the last days, the time between Christ’s first and second coming. Paul warned a young pastor, Timothy, that this period in history will be marked by denial of God’s truth in Scripture, blatant and subtle, and godlessness even among leaders in God’s church.
2 Timothy, particularly 3:1-17, makes for disturbing reading. It is easy to project the apostasy of the “last days” that are spoken of into some distant future. However, a closer look at both the text and our society, particularly the African Christian landscape, brings to the fore the unsettling reality that the brazen apostasy is indeed playing out before our eyes. We are in those last days.
Many of these signs of apostasy, including treachery, hatred, selfishness, rebellion and failing relationships, are already playing out in various ways. Even the institution of marriage is not spared as covenant breakers effortlessly slip out of their marital vows at the first opportunity. Our self-centred natures are further built up by the self-seeking prosperity gospel sermons we are exposed to, along with the lifestyles of those who preach it.
Our self-centred natures are further built up by the self-seeking prosperity gospel sermons we are exposed to, along with the lifestyles of those who preach it.
But Paul does not merely expose these vices. He goes on to give pastoral counsel on how to remain faithful Christians regardless of apostasy and rank hypocrisy. We need to hear that counsel as much as Timothy did in the first century CE. Of all that Paul mentions, this article will focus on two themes urgently needed on the African continent. These are the centrality of scripture and the need for godly examples.
The Scripture at the Centre
Many sections of the church in Africa have pushed the Bible to the periphery. Some have totally abandoned it. Instead they rely mainly on the sermons and devotional resources of their pastors on the radio and dedicated TV channels. It is common to hear claims from Christians within these churches that their pastor(s) have certain special revelation.
Many sections of the church in Africa have pushed the Bible to the periphery.
Worse still, others would claim that the Bible, as we have it, is for the white man. Rather, local prophets are often the medium of ongoing revelation for the Christian community in Africa. Some of these even have cultic/legalistic codes or principles required for attaining salvation and living victorious Christian lives.
Furthermore, groups that profess a commitment to biblical authority in preaching are often barely distinguishable. The text of scripture is conveniently used the same way a national anthem functions at a sporting event: it opens the proceedings, after which there is no further reference to it.
As a result, most sermons have been reduced to you-can-be-rich motivational speaking punctuated with staged rags-to-riches testimonies and so-called miracles bordering on magic and hypnosis. There is no more room for biblical preaching save for proof-texting.
According to Paul, if we are to live faithfully in the midst of such apostasy, we need to recover Scripture and make it central. Just as Paul encouraged Timothy, we need to re-orient ourselves to trusting the scripture as inspired of God, as well as authoritative and sufficient for our salvation.
We need to remind our membership that through Scripture people can meet with the living and speaking God.
We need to remind our membership that through Scripture, people can meet with the living and speaking God. Indeed, this is how He has made himself known to us.
Looking for Godly Examples
Timothy was also encouraged not to lose sight of godly examples around him. Obviously, there were many other teachers besides Paul. However, many of these were poor mentors. Our African context similarly has an abundance of ‘Christian’ models. We can identify them as raw and wrong models.
The raw models are new to ministry. Many have become popular on account of their charisma and their ‘miracles.’ I use this word with caution. Why? Because what they often term miracles are far from biblical miracles, whose primary aim was to invite people to the awe and reverence of God. Many of them are young preachers in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Untried and untested, they are largely unprocessed.
Beware of the Wrong Models
The wrong models have an appearance of success in their Christian walk. When they speak or teach or preach they seem to have some semblance of wisdom. But when you listen carefully, you discover how cunning they are. Smuggling wrong teachings or false ideas into their teaching, which the gullible consume without scrutiny. Some have gained international following and attract millions of TV audiences. They are seen as celebrities and like their Hollywood counterparts are often followed by scandals and controversies.
Paul urged Timothy to follow his exemplary lifestyle and Christ-centred teaching.
Paul urged Timothy to follow his exemplary lifestyle and Christ-centred teaching. This lifestyle was distinctly different that of the hypocrites around him. He was the right model for Timothy to emulate. His message had been tested: the Bereans had scrutinised it and found it to be without blemish. It was neither cunningly packaged deceit nor populist feel-good talk for itching ears, hence his suffering, imprisonments, and shipwrecks.
Our Challenge in the Last Days
Here is the challenge: are there godly men and women we can emulate in our African communities? Do we have those who have remained consistent in teaching the Christ-centred gospel and whose lives demonstrate integrity before men and God? Yes, we do.
May God use these godly examples around us to inspire the next generation to live faithfully amidst apostasy. May we recover a culture of Bible reading and preaching, shunning cheap motivational gibberish from our pulpits. We have a God to faithfully serve and a generation to save.